Building Bridges

The Manager’s Role in the Training Story

Imagine that you work as a manager, heading up a department of six people, and tomorrow Alex, one of your reports, plans to attend training all day. He let you know that he’d be attending this class on project management, and that he needs someone to cover for him while he’s away. Knee-deep in work yourself, you ask one of Alex’s colleagues to cover his crucial items.

But do you know what this training is really about? And do you know what you should expect Alex to be able to do differently as a result of attending this class? You get frustrated when Alex completes projects quickly, but misses key steps he probably shouldn’t at this point in his career. Will this performance need get addressed at this training session? You’re now wondering if you should have paid greater attention to managing his performance and determining his training needs.

Instructional designers and subject matter experts can put all of their expertise and effort into creating an effective course for learners. However, if the employee’s manager doesn’t involve herself or support the effort, the knowledge and skills learned may not “stick.”

Mary L. Broad, in Beyond Transfer of Training, describes managers as stakeholders in the performance improvement process. “There are many stakeholders in complex organizations who have strong interests in effective performance and who can provide necessary support for the performance. For all interventions to develop or improve performance, primary stakeholders include: supervisors and team leaders, and—for strategically important interventions—top executives and managers…” ¹

How should the manager get involved in training for his reports? Let’s consider how a training program resembles a successful sale—both offer important solutions to the end user. As a salesperson pursues closing a sale, the manager aims to improve her team’s performance. This doesn’t happen instantly, however, just like a major sale doesn’t. There are several actions managers can, and should, perform before, during and after to support learning and help ensure it is successful.

Introduction: Prime the Learner

A salesperson begins his job by getting to know the prospect—uncovering their needs, introducing services to meet those needs, and establishing a good relationship in the pre-sale stage. Managers should similarly take advantage of the pre-training time, referred to as “priming,” to set the stage for the employee to learn.

Before training can occur, what items does the manager tackle? In the priming stage, she “helps to identify the performance need” that the training will address, according to Broad. It’s important that manager familiarize herself with the training program, including its learning objectives. Beyond that, a lot of the “introduction” tasks include logistics, such as giving the employee time to attend the class and complete any pre-work ahead of time.

It is the manager’s role to talk with the employee before training with three goals in mind: to share the value of learning, hear what the employee hopes to gain from the training, and talk about performance expectations once the training is complete. Understandably, a big part of what the manager does is support and encourage the employee, which will help the training go smoothly.

Priming often involves a partnership between the manager and training function. Before training begins, the person responsible for delivering the training may share a checklist of questions with the manager, so she can discuss the course material with the employee.

The Sale: Close and Provide Support

A sale is made! When the sale closes, the customer learns how to use the product or service, often with the aid of customer service. The salesperson may contribute in ways that enhance the customer’s experience, such as offering specific suggestions related to the customer’s situation. Similarly, the manager contributes in ways that make it easier for the employee to learn. The manager ensures that a colleague covers the employee’s work in his absence. The manager should also provide any needed materials, like lab equipment for technical training, for the employee to use and practice on.

Post-Sale: Follow Up and Cement the Learning

After the product or service has been purchased, a salesperson follows up with the customer to make sure the solution worked as promised and to see if any other tools or support are needed. Similarly, the manager sits down with the employee after training for a follow-up meeting. In this conversation, the manager aims to find out what the employee learned, which items he may have struggled with, and the top two or three things he may want to do differently.

The manager should observe the employee’s behavior and work habits to see what successful changes he has made, and provide both positive and constructive feedback. These post-training activities can both strengthen the manager-employee relationship and help the employee apply what he’s learned.

Need help with keeping track of what activities managers can do to support their employees attending training, and what sample questions managers can ask before and after the training? Click here for EnVision’s checklist.

¹Broad, Mary L. (2005) Beyond Transfer of Training: Engaging Systems to Improve Performance. San Francisco, CA: Pfeiffer, An Imprint of Wiley, page 31.